FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2018 -- For those of us who grew up watching the original Saturday Night Live, there was no other performer more animated and engaging than Gilda Radner - the first member of that stellar cast to be hired by producer Lorne Michaels. Michaels surrounded her with Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin. Garrett Morris, and Laraine Newman after which some of the best comedy in late night television was created. For many of us, that was the only SNL cast that mattered.


That cast was together about 80 episodes, starting with Chevy Chase leaving, each talent left to pursue other offers, Radner stayed on for 107 episodes with Newman and Curtain...then she left. After making a few pretty bad movies with her relatively new husband Gene Wilder, she fell off the entertainment stage and we didn't hear about her until she was dying of ovarian cancer. She died in 1989.


Since her death, Wilder started a non-for-profit - Gilda's Club as a place where people with cancer can find emotional support. It was the one thing that Gilda had looked for, not only during her bout with cancer, but throughout her life according to this biography by Lisa Dapolito.

The film visits a chubby Radner during her childhood, who knew immediately that she enjoyed making people laugh and loved the limelight of entertainment. Odd as it may seem, monitoring her weight would become a lifelong ordeal perhaps initiated by her mother's monitoring.


The film jumps to her move to Toronto with a boyfriend and joined the cast of Godspell with musician Paul Schaffer after which she moved over to Second City Toronto. She then joined the cast of National Lampoon Radio Hour with life long friends John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis. The film mentions her affairs with Murray, Belushi and [later] Dan Ackroyd.


The film seamlessly shifts to her move to New York City and casting on SNL. Producer Lorne Michaels does most of the reflection on Gilda's time there while recent SNL comedians Melissa McCarthy, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph tout her comedic style and how it has transcended the generations. Older friends discuss her energy levels and later her fight with dietetic issues.


Missing from the film are significant clips of Radner's characters and significant scenes which might engage audiences to her talent. Reflections are reduced to far too brief flashes and incomplete montages. You are left wanting to see Baba Wawa and Emily Litella and more thorough examples of her comic genius. The producers should have ponied up the money to add to the film.


Finally the film moves to her time with Wilder including the how and when the met. The script of the film was taken from Gilda's own journal, which she apparently kept all her life. It is not mentioned why it took so long to get hold of the journal.


"Love Gilda" is a touching look at the life of one of SNL's favorite comedians through the eyes of those who knew her, though it skims over some details and questions you might have.   -- GRADE B --   GEOFF BURTON